Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nordstrom's Marketplace Cafe

Several weekends ago, we decided to head to Ross Park Mall for some shopping. I cannot remember why it seemed like such a good idea, or for what we were looking, I just remember that it was on our list of places to go, next to the chores list, and there was a list of items to look for/investigate, none of which I remember right now. We never just go wandering around the mall, there is always a purpose, something that we need or want to purchase. 

When dinner time rolled around, we were tired from all the shopping and our usual 'where should we eat' discussion was kind of snippy. Fortunately, one of us remembered Nordstrom's Marketplace Cafe.

It's in Nordstrom's, of course. You order & pay at the counter in front, then go inside to choose a table. A server comes over to look at your order ticket and then brings your drinks & food.

We shared Roma Tomato Bisque Soup, served with crostini. 
Tasty, tomato-y soup. I don't remember much else since it was quite a while ago!

SP chose the Cranberry Turkey sandwich, with turkey, havarti, cranberry chutney on multi-grain ciabatta with side salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
He was happy that there was a multi-grain bread sandwich, and the turkey-cranberry combination is one he really enjoys. The sandwich did not disappoint him.
I chose the Chicken & Brie sandwich, with cherry marmalade and arugula on a croissant with side salad with cherry balsamic vinaigrette.
The dressing was tasty but not too strong of a cherry flavor. Nice mixed greens. My croissant was more like a croissant shaped bun than a flaky, buttery croissant, but it was still tasty and I enjoyed the chicken-brie-cherry combination, which surprised me a bit because I normally do not like fruit flavors with my meat.
In addition to the sandwiches, there are salads, pastas, pizzas, and a couple of entrees.

We both were happy with our choice to have dinner here. It was relaxing inside, away from the hustle and bustle of the mall. Our food was tasty, sort of like being at a Panera, but in a more relaxing atmosphere. I wouldn't drive from our home to Ross Park Mall just for this cafe, but it's a very good choice after a day wandering around the mall, especially since, to us, mall food court food is always too salty and greasy and at this mall, the California Pizza Kitchen and Cheesecake Factory always have incredibly long waits.

In addition to the sandwiches, we got two cupcakes to go, I forget which favor SP chose (carrot cake? peanut butter?). I chose a red velvet one. Both were huge, and perhaps to some people a little pricey, but we each got 2 desserts out of our one cupcake and they were tasty.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

SP found a recipe for Nutella Chocolate Chip cookies and he seemed quite excited about these cookies, so we decided to bake them.
Our first batch of round scoops didn't spread much and we wondered if maybe we should have squished them down a bit before baking, like with the Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies.
The squished batch didn't change much from the squished shape, either, so I guess this dough is the kind that comes out of the oven in the same shape as it goes in the oven. 
The round ones tasted better than the squished ones, don't ask me why, but overall, these cookies were not that great. I know. Nutella and chocolate. What could be bad?
They look yummy. But... not so much, in my opinion. I'm definitely not interested in baking these again, not in round form, not in squished form, not in any form.
They tasted a bit dry to me, and they were very crumbly, and they were way too sweet, way too many chocolate chips in them.
I don't think we even ate a dozen. SP took the rest into work, where they quickly vanished and several people said they thought the cookies were tasty. I'm glad some people got enjoyment from these and that we didn't end up tossing them in the trash.

I thought they were very disappointing. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


SP & I love tea. It is our beverage of choice. Hot or iced. Green, white, black, herbal, rooibos, all kinds of tea. We have a pretty substantial amount of tea in the house. An entire drawerful, to be precise, and then some. We have loose leaf tea and lots of strainers as well as tea bags. Walking into a tea shop and gazing at a wall of tea, opening the jars and smelling the teas, it makes us happy.
For several years, I have wanted to go to one of the tea classes at Margaret's Fine Imports, but for a long time, the classes were only the first Wednesday of the month. That was not a convenient time for us. But then one day, we saw a Google Offer for the tea class and it said that the classes were on Wednesdays and Sundays. So we bought two tickets and made reservations for this past Sunday.
Margaret is a lovely, funny, warm, endearing woman from Poland. She had her first taste of tea when she was just a day old, a sip of fennel tea. During class she talked about the history of tea, how tea is made, different kinds of tea, how to brew the perfect cup of tea, tea pots and strainers and other gadgets, and much more. It was very interesting. The best part, of course, was tasting several kinds of tea after class and enjoying some biscuits with the teas. 
We were able to sample six kinds of tea. As expected, my favorite was the black tea while SP really liked the oolong and green teas. Margaret also told us that the fruit tisane tea could be eaten like trail mix! I didn't try it that way, but SP popped a few dried bits into his mouth and crunched away. He said it was tasty.
I am very happy we finally made it to one of the classes. Not only did I learn new things about tea, but it was a great refresher for what I already know about tea but had forgotten!
Margaret gave each student a goodie bag filed with Assam, Kyoto Rose, a tea ball, and a tea measuring scoop. We also bought several teas to add to our tea drawer: Clementine Clove (deliciously clove-y and a great autumn tea), Lemon (we have been looking to replenish our supply of this tea and hadn't had any luck so finding some at Margaret's made us very happy), Cinnamon (one of my favorite tea flavors and a great autumn tea), Pan Fired, and a Milk Oolong (those 2 are for SP). We were happy to discover that she sticks the Metropolitan teas, which we really enjoy.
I think we're set for a while!

In addition to tea, one of my favorite things is reading. I read a lot. I can sit and read for hours at a time. I become so engrossed that the house could probably collapse around me and I wouldn't notice! A wonderful afternoon is curling up in the recliner with a cup of hot tea and reading all afternoon long. Today is the perfect day for that. It's rainy and dreary and I have the new Kathy Reichs book to read by Thursday (when it is due back at the library). So this afternoon I will be enjoying some new tea from Margaret's and reading Bones Are Forever

Tea + Books = Happiness. 

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes. My mom found a mug with this quote on it and bought it for me. She thought it entirely appropriate given that since I was a wee, little girl I have devoured books and sipped tea (though only wee, little cups of tea when I was a wee, little girl!).

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough, or a book long enough to suit me." - CS Lewis

Monday, September 17, 2012

All Around Town

Piccolo Forno is one our our 'more favorite' restaurants, which you would never guess by the fact that usually we manage to make it there only twice a year. This past Saturday was one of those trips.
I didn't have my 'real' camera with me, so these are cell phone camera photos. We left early in the morning for a day of appointments and shopping. We are making progress on the basement project - we actually picked out the carpet we want - but are not having much luck with new furniture. All our furniture options were quickly rejected once we got home with our scribbled notes of dimensions, stood in the room(s), whipped out the measuring tape, and started analyzing. Sigh. Looks like we will have another long day of furniture shopping in our future.
We were all over the place on Saturday, starting in Robinson, then south to Peters Township, back north through Upper St. Clair/Mt. Lebanon, over to Castle Shannon, then east and south towards Century 3 Mall area... with stops all along the way. At some point late in the afternoon/early evening, we looked at each other and decided we had enough of shopping/browsing! We did not want to look at yet another couch/sectional and try to figure out if it was comfy, too deep, too shallow, too low, too high, the right size, would the basement support pole be in the way, how close would it be to the fireplace, how would it hold up, squishy or firm or medium, was it too modern for our older more traditional home, would it match the existing furniture... ACK! We decided to relax and unwind after a long day of carpet~appliance~furniture shopping with a spur of the moment trip to Piccolo Forno for dinner. You know, through the tunnels and into the city, of course, because we hadn't yet done enough driving.
Of course since this was a spur of the moment trip, we didn't 'plan' a BYOB. As it turned out, we had stopped at a liquor store to purchase a few of the remaining bottles of a Chairman's Select sangiovese we tried and really liked (and will never be able to get again after we drink these bottles, thanks crazy PA liquor system). So we had wine in the car, but I felt too tired to have any! I was afraid I'd fall asleep after one glass! So we enjoyed their iced tea, shared an arugula~toasted walnut~tomato~parmesan salad, a special of the day risotto with leeks~prosciutto~peas, and a Quattro Stagioni pizza (roasted red peppers, artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto).
And then, because I wasn't stuffed enough and because, well, why not drive home the long way through Mt. Lebanon and Green Tree and Carnegie, we went to Scoops On Beverly for ice cream. I was looking through past blog posts recently and came across the one with our last trip to Scoops On Beverly - almost an entire year ago! I remembered the Mint Moosetracks ice cream and I had been thinking about it for days. So good! I think mint & chocolate might be my favorite ice cream combination. SP went seasonal, choosing pumpkin ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
A delicious and satisfying end to a long day searching for the perfect carpet and furniture, which probably do not exist, I just haven't accepted that yet.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Slipping Away

It seems as if the older I get, the faster time flies by. It seems to me as if summer just started, but reality is it's already September and I can feel summer slipping away. Especially when I see the kids at the school bus stop near our house, or when I see things like the fall movie preview or fall TV preview, or when I look at the Sunday paper ads and see Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decor advertised.
I'm not yet ready to let go of summer. I'm not ready for fall, even if it is my favorite season and even if I did get a little giddy/happy thinking about getting out the Halloween decorations.
Before the season of pumpkins and squash and potatoes and apples and apple cider, I am going to enjoy summer a bit more. After all, the daytime high temperatures have still been in the mid to upper 80's. Our a/c is still kicking on during the day. And the calendar tells me that fall doesn't start until September 22 at 10:49 am eastern time.  
There's still time to enjoy farmers market peaches both for breakfast and in pie. There was one last 3 day holiday weekend, perfect for a leisurely brunch of French Toast with local maple syrup and juicy blueberries.
 And bacon. Bacon makes everything better, especially brunch.
That time flies by thing? I cannot believe we've been home from Toronto for 2 weeks. Since vacation, we have been craving lots and lots of vegetables, so we decided to try a ratatouille.
It's really not that hard. 'Ratatouille' makes it sound so grand, but really, it's simply sauteed veggies. We used eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and red pepper with fresh thyme, a bay leaf, and some fresh basil sprinkled on right before eating.
I decided it was time to give fish another try. This time, fresh, never frozen, cod from Market District. Grilled, simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.
It wasn't bad. It was perfectly cooked, cooked through but still moist and flaky. I just do not think I am ever going to really enjoy fish. The smell still bothers me - thank goodness the rain stopped so we could cook it outside instead of stinking up the inside! I couldn't even load the dishwasher after the first fish night because every time the door opened, the smell of fish wafted out and I gagged. SP was on dish duty until we ran the dishwasher and eliminated the fish smell.
There are still lots of tomatoes at the farmers market. I love tomatoes. I really wanted another tomato tart after the last one, the one with the burnt to a crisp tomatoes.
These tomatoes turned out much, much better! I probably could have let them roast even a little bit longer, but I was afraid of letting them roast too long! This time, we used goat cheese, and the tart was fantastic. 
There's been CSA corn, cooked on the grill, and a saute of CSA things like baby eggplant, peppers, and onion. I'm not a fan of the baby eggplant, but SP likes it. One of the peppers was really potent as we both started sneezing when he started to chop it!
We tried some chicken sausage with feta and spinach from Market District. 
We grilled it. I like chicken sausage, but I would never have suspected these were spinach & feta sausage because I didn't really taste those flavors. 

More eggplant. Lots of eggplant. I saw these eggplant stacks on Tea & Cookies and liked the concept, so we decided to try them. 
Stacks of sliced eggplant, marinara (from our freezer), feta, and we added portobellas on top. Very filling, and delicious. 
More eggplant - this time in an eggplant~red pepper~tomato pesto.
Pesto Calabrese. I love this pesto. Creamy from the ricotta, smushy eggplant taste, the tang of red peppers, plus fresh basil. 
We've had bowls filled with CSA and farmers market tomatoes - big, juicy red ones, little yellow ones, heirloom ones. One night, all the tomatoes got turned into Chicken Meuniere. 
 The tomatoes were sauteed with kalamatas, capers, lemon zest, and white wine.

And lots of salad. We ate salad every night for a week the week after vacation. Lettuce, carrots, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, kalamatas, green olives, cucumber with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
I haven't had enough summer yet. I'm going to keep holding on, even as I feel it slipping away. Fall means winter is coming and winter is long, snowy, cold, raw, dark, and lacks my favorite farmers market goodies. For 2 more weeks, it's summer, and I'm going to ignore all ads, blogs, food shows, comments about pumpkin beer (yes, you, SP), etc., telling me it's time for fall goodies with pumpkins and apples and squash. Because it's not. Not yet.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pork-n' NAT

The morning we left Toronto, we expected to be home in about 5.5 hours, or around 4 pm. The drive ended up taking 7.5 hours. By the time we were approaching Cranberry, we were hungry. A chocolate croissant breakfast and car snacks (pretzels, almonds, cookies, chips) were not enough food! Knowing we had no food ready to eat at home, we started discussing dinner options.
Our usual 'returning from road trip' DiBella's? Order a pizza? Gyros? Panera? Hey, what about that BBQ place in Cranberry that The City Paper reviewed a while ago?
So I looked it up on my phone and then got my GPS app to give me some directions and before we knew it, we were turning off 79 south at Evans City and heading towards Pork-n' NAT.
It was easy to find. It looked kind of like a barn from the outside and is next to a driving range. We were warmly greeted and seated right away. It's a very casual atmosphere, we knew we were back in Pittsburgh (not just the restaurant name but also the Steelers decor!), and that meant we could safely order unsweetened, freshly brewed iced tea! Although, since my brain was addled from the long, warm car ride and I had become used to inquiring, I asked some rambling, bumbling question about the iced tea and if it was fresh, sweetened, whatever... I am sure I didn't make much sense. All that matters is that our very friendly and capable server didn't look annoyed, figured out what I was asking, and quickly brought two large, unsweetened, freshly brewed iced teas to our table. Aaaahhhhhh.

It didn't take us long to decide on our food. There are appetizers, platters, sandwiches, salads.  Each Signature Platter comes with a piece of jalapeno cornbread (I believe they also have plain cornbread if you ask) plus two sides. I chose the brisket platter with macaroni & cheese and onion rings for my sides.
I was so hungry and that first bite of brisket tasted so good! Lots of juice, moist, smoky, salt & pepper taste. I thought the mac & cheese was deliciously creamy, not pasty like The City Paper thought. I didn't eat the cornbread since I don't really like cornbread. The onion rings were large and very good. Not greasy. Not too heavy of a breading, but not light, either.
I took half of my brisket and half the mac & cheese home for lunch the next day. I wanted to make sure I had something to eat in case we hadn't yet done the grocery shopping!

SP chose the pulled pork platter with baked beans and cole slaw. He really, really liked the baked beans, which he said had bits of bacon it them. The pulled pork was moist and tasty. He chose a Carolina style BBQ sauce, which I didn't try. I think they offer 5 kinds of sauce (Signature, House BBQ, Smoky, Carolina, and Horseradish are listed on the To Go Menu). It looked like a thin sauce, but not watery, a bit of tomato with the vinegar and mustard. He said it was quite good.
I'm not sure how often we'll make it to Cranberry to enjoy Pork-n' NAT since it's not super close to us, but I'm sure we'll be keeping it in mind for times we travel up & down 79. The food was tasty. Prices reasonable. The people who work there were really friendly. Service was prompt, not rushed. It's a BYOB place, and while I am not sure we'd take wine or beer, it's nice to know that you can. It's also nice to know that they do take out.
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